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(Is This Johnson’s image of The Great Society?).

During the week of August 28, 2006, America commemorated the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the greatest Atlantic hurricane and natural disaster in American history. 

During the week of September 11, 2006, America is commemorating the fifth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and United Airlines Flight 93 that crashed in Somerset County, Pennsylvania.  Both of these commemorations allow Americans a unique opportunity to mourn tragic losses and more importantly, peer into the soul of America. 

The national government’s response to these events and the manner in which the “refugees� of Katrina and the respondents to 9/11 have been dealt with dramatize a critical shift in the political psyche or mindset in the American body politic.
On May 22, 1964 President Lyndon Johnson addressed the graduates at the University of Michigan and gave what is now known as “The Great Society Speech.�  In this address President Johnson spoke about the future of America.  He asked if American’s have the wisdom to use America’s wealth “…to enrich and elevate our national life, and to advance the quality of our American civilization.� President Johnson told those graduates that they had the opportunity to move America forward to become not only a rich and powerful society “…but upward to the ‘Great Society.’�

He went on to say that the “Great Society� was not an ultimate goal but an ongoing challenge to ensure that “…the meaning of our lives matches the marvelous products of our labor.� To accomplish this, President Johnson called upon America to use its wealth and resources “…to create new concepts of cooperation, a creative federalism, between the National Capital and the leaders of local communities.�  What has become of our “Great Society,� what has become of the soul of America?

As we reflect upon Katrina and peer into the mirror of history, we see mostly poor people of all colors, ethnic groups, and ages. We see children sitting on roof tops, the elderly floating on mattresses, and crowds of Americans huddled under highway overpasses in the searing heat without food and water. Where was our National government, we must ask? At the height of the greatest National disaster in American history, where were the resources of the wealthiest nation in the history of the world when its citizens were in their gravest hour of need? Where was the leadership of those sworn to protect the public good? Two days after the greatest National disaster in American history was playing out before our very eyes on national television, this nations leader was 3,400 miles away playing the guitar at a country and western show in San Diego, CA.  President George “Nero� Bush fiddled while the Gulf Coast drowned!

As we reflect upon the fifth anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 9/11, we peer into the reality of now. We praise but fail to assist those selfless individuals, the “first respondents� to the scene who now, five years later suffer from lung disease and are dying from the toxic mixture of pulverized cement, asbestos, paper, glass, and other unknown particles and contaminants.  They inhaled that air born cocktail of death in order to save lives.

Now many of their lives hang in the balance while the resources of the wealthiest nation in the history of the world are not being made available to assist them.  For their acts of heroism we embrace them and sing praise; for their physical suffering and mental anguish we cast them aside to fend for themselves.

As we peer into this mirror we see a culture that has changed, a paradigm that has shifted, a script that has been flipped.  Forty-two years ago President Johnson called upon this nation to use its vast resources in order to help the least of us. He prescribed that we redistribute income and wealth so that those with the least could have a safety net, a provider of last resort. The President asked in 1964 if American’s have the wisdom to use America’s wealth “…to enrich and elevate our national life, and to advance the quality of our American civilization?� 

Today we are a corptocracy. We redistribute wealth but not to the least of us, now, it goes to those with the most. We’ve ended “welfare as you know it.� Now your taxes fund corporate welfare, billion dollar defense contracts to Lockheed-Martin, no-bid contracts to Halliburton, and greater profits for Bechtel and the Carlyle group.

The poem "The New Colossus" is engraved on the Statue of Liberty, its final lines read, “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, lift my lamp beside the golden door! What happened to that “kinder gentler nation� and those “thousand points of light� that President George H.W. Bush called for?  Where is the compassion from those “compassionate conservatives� that President George W. Bush called for?

I ask what has happened to the soul of America? Has the light of that lamp been extinguished; has the golden door been closed?  God Bless America?  No… God Help Us All!

Dr. Wilmer Leon is the Producer/ Host of the nationally broadcast call-in talk radio program “On With Leonâ€?, Producer/Host of the television program “Inside The Issues With Wilmer Leonâ€? and a Teaching Associate in the Department of Political Science at Howard University in Washington, D.C.  Go to www.wilmerleon.com or email: [email protected].

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